How gratifying that the modern world is finally taking notice of yoga as an effective way of combatting stress. Can you envision those ancient yogis in India? Their lean bodies and serene faces are the image of peaceful health, strength and serenity. Yes, finally, after literally thousands of years of existence, the positive effects of practicing yoga have been recognized as an excellent support for our overall health and mental stability.
Yoga practice can instill mental toughness, resilience, detachment and preparation for challenges; it is impossible not to finish a session of yoga feeling more relaxed both mentally and physically…
Not surprisingly, doctors and psychiatrists are increasingly prescribing yoga instead of medication to control symptoms of stress such as anxiety and panic attacks. Considering the potential side effects of taking medication to suppress the symptoms of anxiety, yoga is a safer alternative, helping patients to cope with worries, rather than just “masking” them.
Mind over Matter
The physiological effects of yoga on stress are tangible – and have been measured in medical studies. As anxiety is essentially worrying about possible outcomes in the future, meditation and mindfulness – two key aspects of the yoga state of mind – keep the thoughts centered on the present and help to avoid overthinking and rumination – when our thoughts run away with themselves.
In other words, your brain is being trained to control your reactions to your thoughts; to remain present and calm rather than stressed and fearful. Most yoga classes include an element of meditation – just simply focusing on a fixed point during tree pose, for example, is a way of quieting the chatter of the mind… Chanting and repeating positive affirmations are other aspects of yoga that help us switch off the noise of the mind and bring calm and positivity.
Vitally, yoga helps us to keep a healthy distance from our thoughts, while promoting relaxation of the body, which in turn creates endorphins – the feel good hormones. Similarly to anti-anxiety medication, regular yoga practice also improves levels of GABA in the brain – a calming neurotransmitter that helps promote a more relaxed thought process and reduces emotional reactivity.
Mental and physical health are not just closely linked; they are equivalent. Yoga helps you to chill out and maintain – or regain mental clarity… Yoga allows us to develop discipline of mind and body and learn self-soothing strategies to deal with stress in our daily lives. Regular practice also improves our ability to process our emotions on a daily basis – building resilience and better long-term mental health.
An immediate reaction to stress is shortening, uneasiness of the breath. Yoga postures challenge the breath – and slow down the rhythm… At the most basic level, deep, steady breathing – the vortex of yoga – has an instant effect on calming the mind.
Most yoga classes incorporate a session of deep diaphragmatic breathing which has an instantly calming effect on our breathing rhythm. Similarly, the flow of yoga postures in class will challenge the breath – and slow down its rhythm…
Taking it further is Pranayama, the fourth of the 8 Limbs of Yoga, effectively a simple yoga practice made up of breathing techniques with the aim of extending our vital life force energy. From simply extending the exhalation, to more complex bursts of breath holding and vigorous expelling of air, Pranayama breaks our unconscious breathing patterns, activating a “relaxation response” of the parasympathetic nervous system. Practiced regularly Pranayama helps calm anxious minds, increase resilience, beat insomnia, ease pain and improve focus. Follow this Yoga Journal link for 3 techniques to set you on the path to better breathing habits.
Another stress-busting advantage of a regular yoga practice is a reduction in our regular heart rate – with the deep breathing contributing to this. With daily sessions of yoga, your beats per minute will reduce significantly in a matter of weeks, all adding to a healthier, calmer you.
Yoga is a personal practice; it is all about easing the body into the various asana or poses, not pushing and forcing – a philosophy which, given time, can be carried over into every day life.
One of the keys of the yoga-state-of-mind is how the practice gently coaxes open up the chakras or energy centers of the body. Importantly, it is when our chakras are out of balance that we experience stress, anxiety, disconnection and other negative states of mind. There are myriad ways to stimulate the chakras to open including touch, color, food, music, love; a plethora of sensual stimuli – and within yoga, there are specific yoga poses to fast track the balancing of each specific chakra.
Calming Yoga Styles
The classes on offer at Radiant Yoga encompass an impressive range of yoga styles and disciplines. The most recommendable for their calming and soothing influence are Vinyasa Yoga – a style of yoga which flows from pose-to-pose is mentally calming while Restorative Yoga is all about slowing down and passive stretching using props such as bolsters, so these are a good place to start you on your calming yoga journey.
Yoga Journal recommends the following as examples of good yoga poses to bring on feelings of calm and peace.
Meanwhile for more experienced yogis, try this Prana Kriya meditation, an ancient technique of energy and breath control, for a fast-track to a peaceful mind.
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